Unveiling the link: Pesticides and Parkinson’s disease

Credit: Arjun MJ / Unsplash

New Research Findings

Scientists from UCLA Health and Harvard have recently uncovered a troubling connection between certain pesticides and Parkinson’s disease.

They have identified 10 specific pesticides that severely harm neurons which play a crucial role in this debilitating illness.

These new findings highlight the role environmental toxins, like pesticides, may play in the development of Parkinson’s.

Why is This Important?

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that affects movement and often leads to shaking stiffness, and difficulty with walking and coordination.

While exposure to environmental factors such as pesticides has long been suspected to contribute to Parkinson’s disease, it’s been difficult to pinpoint which pesticides might raise the risk for the disorder.

A Closer Look at Pesticides

This new study used a unique approach, combining epidemiology and toxicity screening to analyze California’s extensive pesticide database.

The Golden State is known for being the country’s top agricultural producer and exporter, registering the use of almost 14,000 pesticide products with over 1,000 active ingredients.

The UCLA and Harvard researchers identified 10 pesticides that were directly toxic to neurons, also known as dopaminergic neurons.

These neurons are key in controlling voluntary movement and their loss is a defining characteristic of Parkinson’s disease.

Deep-Dive into the Study

The study, which was published in Nature Communications, looked at decades of exposure history for 288 pesticides among patients with Parkinson’s disease from California’s Central Valley.

Researchers then tested each pesticide individually for a possible connection to Parkinson’s.

This extensive analysis highlighted 53 pesticides that could potentially be linked to Parkinson’s disease.

Interestingly, most of these had not been previously studied for a potential link, and many are still in use today.

Laboratory Findings

The identified pesticides were then tested in a laboratory under the guidance of Dr. Richard Krolewski, a neurologist from Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

He examined their toxicity on neurons derived from Parkinson’s patients using induced pluripotent stem cells.

These are a type of cell that can be reprogrammed into neurons, closely mimicking those lost in Parkinson’s disease.

Pesticides in Question

The researchers identified four insecticides (dicofol, endosulfan, naled, propargite), three herbicides (diquat, endothall, trifluralin), and three fungicides (copper sulfate [basic and pentahydrate] and folpet) as being directly toxic to these neurons.

Despite their differences in structure and use, all these pesticides share a common toxic effect on the dopaminergic neurons.

Moreover, researchers found that combinations of pesticides, often used in cotton farming, were even more toxic than any single pesticide.

The Way Forward

Dr. Kimberly Paul, a lead author and assistant professor of neurology at UCLA, emphasized the significance of this research, stating that it helps identify potential culprits in the link between pesticides and Parkinson’s.

Moving forward, the research team is planning further investigation.

They intend to study the impact of pesticide exposure on biological pathways in Parkinson’s patients and look closer into the specific processes affected by pesticides in neurons.

They also aim to expand the basic science research to include the effects of pesticides on non-neuronal cells in the brain, known as glial cells.

In conclusion, this research not only provides new insights into the environmental factors contributing to Parkinson’s disease, but also highlights the urgent need for more comprehensive pesticide regulation and safer farming practices.

If you care about Parkinson’s disease, please read studies about Vitamin E that may help prevent Parkinson’s disease, and Vitamin D could benefit people with Parkinson’s disease.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about new way to treat Parkinson’s disease, and results showing flavonoid-rich foods could improve survival in Parkinson’s disease.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

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